Merchandising University – Evaluating Your Online Presence

According to Forrester Research, 38% of US online hotel guests — 47.5 million people — avoid staying at hotels that they can afford because they don’t see photos, video, or written content that would make them feel comfortable. These guests are considered ‘content-sensitive’ travelers. They are “young, quality-focused travelers who take more trips and spend more on leisure travel annually than other travelers.” You could be losing out on bookings from this segment of premium guests because your online content isn’t up to snuff.

Here’s a quick merchandising check-up based on industry best practices that will help you identify how well you are merchandising your hotel online. Answer the following questions in relation to your own website as well as your listings on third-party sites.

1. How current are your photos?

Having current visual content available online is important because travel shoppers rely on it to evaluate your hotel and determine whether or not it meets their needs. Outdated visuals not only prevent a good percentage of premium guests from booking your hotel, but those that do book may experience a disconnect between their expected and actual experiences, leading to low satisfaction and loyalty as well as poor online reviews that could harm your hotel’s reputation. Even if you haven’t renovated recently, you must have current photography.

2. Do you have rich media (video and virtual tours)?

Photos are absolutely essential and particularly useful at providing travel shoppers with a quick way to evaluate your hotel. But, to truly engage travel shoppers and inspire them to book, you need rich media. “According to Sapient, adding video to a travel client’s site more than doubled the number of people who went on to book the product.” A combination of photos and rich media that tell your hotel’s story and highlight its unique features and benefits is ideal.

3. Is your content available on all selling channels (not just your own)?

These days, travel shoppers use multiple websites while planning their trips including online travel agencies, social media and review sites, destination sites and more. In fact, a study by Google found that when planning a vacation, the average person spends 29 days doing 12 searches and visits 22 different travel sites. Third-party sites act as gateways to your own sales channels so your content needs to be there, period. No matter where shoppers view your hotel online, they should get the same visually compelling experience.

If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s time to give your online content a face-lift!

Source: Henry H. Harteveldt and Elizabeth Stark, Poor Content Could Cost Travel eBusiness Money, September 8, 2009.

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